On Monday night I sat down and read Irène Némirovsky’s very short novel, Le Bal. I’ve been meaning to read Némirovsky for awhile now and luckily my French book group selected this feisty little story of revenge and mother-daughter disharmony for our April read. As the title suggests this is the story of a party—although it is really the story of a pair of horrible parents and their soon-to-be horrible daughter. And it is also the story of 1920s Paris and the rise of the nouveau riche, of social climbing and being desperate for public recognition. On top of all that, it is the story of a certain moment of adolescence when suddenly the adult world comes into frightening focus.
Némirovsky’s writing is a pleasure to read, all sharp corners and crisp sentences. And the kind of omniscient narrator who swoops in with exactly the right kind of stunning detail and careful framing. The kind of narrator who keeps out of the way, for the most part, and just gets the story out in front of the reader in the most efficient and elegant way possible. I knew that this year with so much contemporary fiction reading on my plate that I would relish any moment I could steal with older, modernist fiction. Such was the case with my hour with Némirovsky. A pure delight.
Such a tragedy that Némirovsky was not given the chance to lead a long, full life. In her very short life she wrote a considerable amount – not all of which has made its way into English. Just imagine what else she might have written if she hadn’t been killed at the age of 39…
I’ll be hunting up copies of her other works, starting of course with her earliest…Le Malentendu, a first novel written first as a short story and then published as a novel when she was only 18 years old.